Walker Kessler, the 2022 Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, blocked nearly five shots per game for the Tigers in 2021-22. A serviceable contributor while at UNC, the former five-star recruit reached new heights in his lone year at Auburn.
UPDATE: In an unrelated move, Kessler was traded to the Utah Jazz along with four first round picks between 2023 and 2029, Patrick Beverly, Leandro Bolmaro, Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley on July 1, 2022.
Wendell Moore, Jr. took a circuitous route to the Twin Cities, first getting drafted by the Dallas Mavericks before being traded to the Houston Rockets. From there, he was involved in another draft night trade between the Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Moore, Jr. has a versatile game that shines on the defensive end. The 2022 Julius Erving Award winner also earned All-ACC defensive honors this past season.
Like most in the NBA, every team dreams of having a dynamic duo like Pippen and Jordan, Shaq and Kobe, or James and Davis. After another disappointing season in 2019-20, the Washington Wizards decided to try and stir up a dynamic duo of their own with newly-traded Russell Westbrook and returning All-Star Bradley Beal.
Excited by the potential combination, in an interview Beal commented, “I definitely think he [Westbrook] will propel me to a new level that I haven’t tapped into yet. I’m definitely excited about it (Chase).” However, the experiment currently boiling in DC has so far shown early signs of failure. Currently sitting at 2-6, the Wizards win just once for every four contests. The team’s projected 18-54 record would be worse than their 25-47 mark from a season ago.
To make matters worse, the expected dynamic duo’s stands at just 1-5, as Westbrook did not contribute to the win against the Timberwolves; which leaves most spectators wondering if the All-Star combination is creating more damage than good. Last season, Westbrook finished with a career-high 47.2% field goal percentage , and this season his average has decreased to 39.5% (Russell Westbrook Stats). On the other hand, Beal shot 45.5% from the field in 2019-20, which has increased slightly to 47.9% this season, although it is an average he has held before (Bradley Beal Stats).
Beyond the numbers, what the statistics fail to present spectators with is the lack of time (a period of only nine days before preseason) that the All-Stars have had to click. While some might argue that Westbrook and Beal are not the type of guards who can share a court, when speaking about constructive criticism from Westbrook, Beal said, “I’m a constructive criticism guy. I can take it. I love when guys get on my head, tell me to play better, tell me to go. Light a fire, fuel up under me; I like that (Chase).”
For now, the lack of time might be enough to justify why the experiment has failed thus far. Just as it takes time to practice perfecting free throws and fadeaways, it takes time to practice gelling with a new team. Even though both players have talked about their powerful potential, everyone knows that actions speak louder than words, and the window of using time as an excuse is quickly running out. These two players must learn how to boost each others’ strengths and shield each others’ weaknesses or else the public will eventually have valid reasons to declare the experiment as unsuccessful.
And with Beal’s two-year max extension coming to an end at the conclusion of the 2020-21 campaign, an unsuccessful partnership may provide an answer to the original question of Deal or No Beal.
EDITOR’s UPDATE: Following the team’s 128-107 victory over the Phoenix Suns on January 11, 2021, the Wizards announced five positive COVID-19 tests and postponed the next four games.
Chase Hughes. “Beal Says Westbrook Will Take His Game up a Level.” RSN , 15 Dec. 2020, www.nbcsports.com/washington/wizards/bradley-beal-says-russell-westbrook-will-take-h is-game-level.
“Russell Westbrook Stats.” ESPN , ESPN Internet Ventures, www.espn.com/nba/player/stats/_/id/3468/russell-westbrook.
What makes this player NASTY…(Strengths): Athletic. Willing passer from the post (Kansas ‘19). Toppin is very engaged in offensive sets and moves well without the ball. His three years at Dayton made him a seasoned player. Gets easy buckets at the rim before expanding his range (Miss. State ‘18). Runs the floor and manufactures points in transition when his shot isn’t falling. Excellent body control. Makes passes with his off hand while in the air avoiding defenders. Productive weak side shot blocker.
Weaknesses: What is his positional fit defensively? Lateral quickness was a problem for him. Looks stiff when in his defensive stance. He was posted up and struggled against Kansas center Udoka Azubuike. The Jayhawks actually attacked him late in the game and targeted him through isolation off pick and rolls or post-ups. FT shooting percentage is troublesome as opposed to other shooting splits.
Other Notes: Attended four high schools: Heritage (Fl.), Melbourne Central Catholic (Fl.), Ossining (NY), Mt. Zion Prep (Md.). • Redshirted his freshman season at Dayton after being deemed academically ineligible. • 2x First Team All Atlantic 10 (2019, 2020), Atlantic 10 Player of the Year (2020), National Player of the Year (2020)• Brother, Jacob, plays college basketball for Kentucky. • 2018-2019 (33 games, 15 sts): 14.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.8 AST, 66% FG, 71% FT, 52% 3-PT, 0.6 SPG, 0.8 BPG • 2019-2020 (31 games, 31 sts): 20 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.2 APG, 63% FG, 70% FT, 39% 3-PT, 1.0 SPG, 1.2 BPG • Career: 17.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.0 APG, 65% FG, 70% FT, 42% 3-PT, 0.8 SPG, 1.0 BPG
Time to get NASTY (Our Summary): Like many prospects, Toppin will have to be selected into the right situation to flourish. In an ideal scenario offensively, Toppin would be paired with shooters that can spread the floor. This would allow him to use his athleticism unabated around the rim. Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce is defensive- minded and has a roster full of young shooters like Kevin Huerter and Trae Young. On the other end a marriage between him and a team like the Minnesota Timberwolves -who lack shooting and defense- would concern me when trying to project Toppin’s NBA prospects.
What makes this player NASTY…(Strengths): Edwards possesses an NBA-ready body for a shooting guard. The Georgia freshman showed the potential to take over games by himself with his scoring (MSU ‘19). Against the Spartans, Edwards had 33 points in the second half, thanks to an explosive first step which in turn set up his jab step to create space for jumpers. NBA defenders will have to be prepared to stop Edwards left-to-right crossover, one of his signature moves. He is also a willing rebounder and can start the fastbreak once he crashes the glass.His leaping ability not only allows him to get rebounds at a 5.2 per game average, but he also can finish at the rim with the best of them. At his size, he moves in transition with fluid motion. Defensively, Edwards plays with active hands (Delaware State ‘19) but does fall asleep occasionally off the ball.
Weaknesses: Edwards can fall in trouble with settling for the three-point shot (29% shooting on 7.7 attempts per game). The Atlanta native had five games with at least 29 points but also had four games where he only scored six points in each game. Can he find a more consistent offensive game at the next level? He will have to improve his decision making even at the off-guard position (2.8 assists-to-2.7 turnover ratio). Not a natural point guard but was asked to play the position at times, which caused indecisiveness.
Attended Therrell and Holy Spirit Prep High School (Ga.). Participated in the Jordan Brand Classic and McDonald’s All- American game.
Wears No. 5 to honor his mother and grandmother who both died on the fifth of the month during an eight-month span when Edwards was in the eighth grade. From then on, he was raised by his siblings.
Edwards was coached at Georgia by Tom Crean and his game is reminiscent to some of Crean’s former guards: Victor Oladipo and Dwyane Wade. Oladipo and Wade, however, were grizzled college veterans, and Edwards played just one year in college. The Georgia freshman will have to polish his ball handling abilities and ability to play off the ball in order to garner the same success as the aforementioned NBA All-Star guards. Edwards would be best served paired with a point guard who can take the ball handling responsibilities off of him. In addition, he needs a capable pick-and-roll type of center to play beside him. The Minnesota Timberwolves would be an intriguing option for Edwards at the top of the draft.
Jamal Murray and Gary Harris will start in the backcourt for the Nuggets next season but Malik Beasley is the only true guard left under contract. Will Barton provided a spark off the bench and could come back next season but he will be a coveted free agent. If the Nuggets can’t re-sign Barton, look for them to add another guard who can handle the ball and score. With the 14th pick in the draft, Denver could look west to Oregon and target combo guard Troy Brown. Brown is 6’7” and finished the season with 11 points , six rebounds and three assists per game. Brown can play everything from point guard to forward and could in time be an Andre Iguodala-type player.
The Nuggets roster is filled with bigger forwards like Paul Milsap, Trey Lyles, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur but Wilson Chandler is the only “wing” on the team. Denver could use the 43rd overall pick on a wing if they decide to go with a guard at No. 14. If the Nuggets target a wing in the second round, Texas Arlington’s Kevin Hervey could be intriguing. Hervey averaged 20 points per game and eight rebounds a night on 33 percent three-point shooting last year for the UTA Mavericks. Hervey (6’9, 230) moves well for his size and should translate well to small forward in the NBA.
Cap space: -7 million, 107 million
Free agents: Devin Harris, Will Barton, Richard Jefferson
Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins and Tyus Jones lead an experienced backcourt while Gorgui Dieng and Karl Anthony-Towns are the foundation pieces in the frontcourt. Minnesota lacks a true small forward/ wing player. Butler and Wiggins can alternate minutes at small forward but the Timberwolves could stand to add another wing for depth. Minnesota has the 20th pick in the draft and Boston College’s Jerome Robinson is a prospect to watch. Robinson, 6-foot-5, is a sharp shooting guard who would allow Minnesota to move Butler/ Wiggins to the small forward position. Robinson shot 48 percent from the field and averaged 20 points last season. Robinson’s silky shooting and lean frame could remind fans of Jamal Crawford.
Shabazz Napier served as the primary backup point guard last season but struggled in the opening round against the Pelicans. For the season, Napier averaged eight points per game and two assists on twenty minutes of action. This season, Napier along with Pat Connaughton are free agents. Portland has the 24th pick in the draft and could use that pick to bring in some depth behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. USC’s De’Anthony Melton is a do it all combo guard at 6-foot-4. Melton has the tools to be an elite defender but his offense could use some seasoning. Melton could come in immediately and play alongside either Lillard and McCollum and give them a breather against the opposing team’s best scoring guard.
Big men Ed Davis and Jusuf Nurkic are free agents. Nurkic, 23 years old, has played his best basketball over the last two seasons, averaging nearly 15 points and 10 rebounds in both seasons. Portland could still use their 24th pick to bring in another defensive minded and athletic big man. Louisville’s Ray Spalding is raw but is 6-foot-10 and has a 7’6” wingspan. Spalding’s game translates to that of a stretch four and could complement the Trail Blazers, who lack an athletic big man.
Cap space: -13 million, 113 million
Free agents: Ed Davis, Jusuf Nurkic, Shabazz Napier, Wade Baldwin, Pat Connaughton
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder broke the bank to bring in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony last season. George will probably explore other options next season and Anthony’s production in 2017 doesn’t warrant his $27 million price tag. Oklahoma City will be in search for an athletic wing as Corey Brewer is set to hit free agency. The Thunder don’t have a first round pick but do have the 53rd and 57th overall picks. TCU’s Kenrich Williams, 6-foot-7, is a name to watch. Williams is 24 years old but that could work to his advantage. Oklahoma City has enough pieces to win now and his game is developed for a rookie. Williams averaged 13 points per game, nine rebounds and shot 39 percent from three last season.
Backup point guard
Raymond Felton will be 34 years old by the start of next season and is a free agent. The Thunder could look for a more athletic point guard to backup Russell Westbrook if Felton chooses to leave. Kansas’ Malik Newman is a 6-foot-4 combo guard with elite athleticism. Newman will have to work on his ball handling but he has shown before he has the ability to share the ball with talented teammates and could fit well alongside a star studded crew in OKC.
Cap space: -36 million, 136 million
Free agents: Nick Collison, Raymond Felton, Josh Huestis, Jerami Grant, Corey Brewer
Raul Neto and Dante Exum are free agents and Ricky Rubio will be a year from now. Utah could use their 21st pick to bring in another point guard to complement Donovan Mitchell long term. Duke’s Trevon Duval is 6-foot-3 and has a 7’0” wingspan. Duval is athletic and can handle the lead ball handling responsibilities. Duval’s size will allow him to defend either guard position. Alongside Mitchell, Duval will have a chance to defer offensively until he develops his offensive game, most notably his jump shot.
Cap space: -25 million, 125 million
Free agents: Derrick Favors, Dante Exum, Raul Neto, David Stockton
*The 2018-2019 NBA salary cap sits at $101 million and the luxury tax sits at $123 million.
Player stats are courtesy of ESPN.com.
Financial outlook is courtesy of Spotrac.com.
–By: Troy Jefferson, DraftNasty Staff reports, Follow him @troy_jefferson on twitter.